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The presidents of Johns Hopkins and Purdue send strikingly different messages; only one of the men passes the leadership test

I begin this blog post admitting a bias: I believe a person’s true character comes through during times of crisis. You must decide the degree to which those sentiments influence what you’re about to read.

The presidents of Johns Hopkins University and Purdue University have shared how the next few months, and the fall semester, might look like on their campuses. Through their statements reviewing how coronavirus, the worst crisis to hit higher education in more than a decade, continues to challenge their institutions, one of the presidents has demonstrated empathy, compassion and self-sacrifice. The other has shown little more than tone deafness.

Ronald Daniels is the president at Johns Hopkins. His letter acknowledges that every person on that campus matters. Mitch Daniels is the president at Purdue. His letter openly acknowledges that death be damned, the university should return to normal operations this fall.

Ronald Daniels defines leadership as caring for people, practicing humble stewardship, affirming transparency and seeing himself and his fellow campus leaders as servants. He’s a man to be admired.

Mitch Daniels defines leadership as closing one’s eyes to potential suffering so that economic losses might be reduced. He should have joined the recent protests in multiple U.S. cities during which people suggested stay-at-home orders were tyrannical.

Ronald Daniels commitment to leadership can perhaps best be summed up by this excerpt from his correspondence to the campus:

Johns Hopkins enters this moment with a focus first and foremost on our people—those we live, learn, and work with, and those we are honored to serve.

“A focus first and foremost on our people.”

Mitch Daniels’ disregard for leadership perhaps can be best summed up by this statement:

At least 80% of our population is made up of young people, say, 35 and under. All data to date tell us that the COVID-19 virus, while it transmits rapidly in this age group, poses close to zero lethal threat to them.

Lethal threat.

What a nice choice of words to share with a board of trustees, fellow campus leaders, alumni, faculty, staff, friends of the university, parents, and current and future students.

Ronald Daniels allows his letter to illustrate how top administrators will take double-digit pay cuts in order to aid the overall financial health of the university. With hard numbers, he reviews how the university’s bottom line has been, and will continue to be, affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He doesn’t ignore the potential for furloughs or layoffs, but you’re urged to notice how it’s discussed:

University-level HR will work closely with the divisions to establish fair and appropriate supports in the form of transitional assistance for affected employees. We also are working to devise enhanced incentives for faculty in affected programs and departments to consider voluntary retirement options, and we are establishing a special COVID-19 Employee Relief Fund to provide grants to employees who are struggling financially through this pandemic.

“Fair and appropriate supports.”

“Grants to employees who are struggling financially through this pandemic.”

Mitch Daniels’ effort at putting people at ease looks like this:

The roughly 20% of our Purdue community who are over 35 years old contains a significant number of people with diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and other ailments which together comprise a very high percentage of the fatal and most severe COVID-19 cases.

We will consider new policies and practices that keep these groups separate, or minimize contact between them. Literally, our students pose a far greater danger to others than the virus poses to them. We all have a role, and a responsibility, in ensuring the health of the Purdue community.

“Keep these groups separate.”

“Our students pose a far greater danger to others.”

I’ve not read every story associated with coronavirus, but I don’t recall any medical professional confirming that 35 is the magical age at which coronavirus matters. I accept that the CDC’s provisional data show the number of deaths in the U.S. from the virus escalates based on age, but I’m not sure one can draw a conclusion that a 34-year-old man ought to be walking around the West Lafayette, Indiana, area (home to Purdue University) smiling and happy while a 36-year-old woman ought to be trembling in fear as her path crosses with other people.

When will Johns Hopkins University open its doors again? No one knows with certainty; here’s how Ronald Daniels addresses the decision-making process:

The university has convened working groups to assess options and planning for the eventual safe and prudent reopening and return to campus for all in-person activities and programs, ranging from patient care to lab-based research to general instruction and the undergraduate residential experience.

“Safe and prudent reopening.”

What does Mitch Daniels think about the reopening of Purdue University?

Closing down our entire society, including our university, was a correct and necessary step. It has had invaluable results. But like any action so drastic, it has come at extraordinary costs, as much human as economic, and at some point, clearly before next fall, those will begin to vastly outweigh the benefits of its continuance.

“Vastly outweigh the benefits of its continuance.”

I was speaking to my university president, Dr. Christopher Howard, a couple of weeks ago. As we ended our phone call, he said this: “I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I know we, all of us, will get through this together.”

Ronald Daniels would agree.

Southern New Hampshire University makes bold promise to its incoming freshmen

Southern New Hampshire University has informed its incoming freshmen that the school will provide


  • An Innovation Scholarship that covers 100% of your first-year tuition (effectively making your start at SNHU tuition-free)

  • The ability to apply federal financial aid and non-SNHU scholarships to your room and board costs if you choose to live on campus (room and board costs still apply)

  • A new lower annual tuition of approximately $10,000 per year to finish your degree (a 66% reduction in our current tuition rate)


(ICYMI) Franciscan University promises 100% tuition coverage for fall semester

Franciscan University, located in Steubenville, Ohio, sent out the following press release.

In response to the unprecedented economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Franciscan University of Steubenville will cover the remainder of tuition costs, after scholarships and grants have been applied, for the fall 2020 semester for all incoming full-time undergraduate students enrolled in its on-campus programs. The president and Board of Trustees unanimously approved Step in Faith, a COVID-19 response plan, at their April 18 meeting.

President Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, said, “As a University, we feel called by God to ease the burden for students, so they can experience the irreplaceable value of a Franciscan University education. We’ve heard from many students whose concerns over the pandemic are making the decision to leave home for college more difficult. Also, many families and students have seen their ability to pay for college evaporate due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. We hope this unique response will help them to overcome these obstacles and uncertainties and step out in faith with us.”

The idea of using some of the University’s reserves to cover tuition costs came forward after Father Pivonka asked faculty and staff to join him in prayer for “fresh, creative, Holy Spirit-inspired ideas” for addressing the challenges Franciscan University and its students were facing due to the pandemic.

“I must say this is not what I was expecting, but after discernment and discussion, it seemed like an excellent way to provide for new students and their families, many of whom are now hesitant to commit to on-campus higher education,” said Father Pivonka.

“I took it to prayer and ultimately, to our Board of Trustees. The trustees generously responded to this call from God to use our reserves in this unusual way to assist new students and to expand our mission as an academically excellent and passionately Catholic university. This initiative is a step in faith for Franciscan, and I seriously doubt we will ever do anything like this again. It will be difficult for us, but we think it’s the right thing to do.”

Step in Faith applies to new full-time on-campus undergraduates and covers tuition after scholarships and grants, while students retain responsibility for their fees, housing, and meal plans.

“While the tuition coverage for fall 2020 goes to every new freshman and undergraduate transfer student regardless of their ability to pay, families for whom tuition payments are not a hardship—as well as other benefactors—have the opportunity to contribute to the Step in Faith Fund, which will help us help our students,” Father Pivonka said. “We are committing our resources, but we hope others will join us to make this a sustainable effort.”

Franciscan University has also created a special financial aid fund to assist returning students who are experiencing significant financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Father Pivonka added, “Our patron, St. Francis of Assisi, had a deep concern for those in need, and as a Franciscan university, we seek to follow his example in caring for those entrusted to us. While we always strive to keep our tuition affordable, we decided we needed to do more in light of the severe difficulties so many are facing this year.”

New students already enrolled for the fall and others considering Franciscan University were notified today of Step in Faith. Applications are still being accepted for qualified students. Find out more about Franciscan University’s fall 2020 tuition coverage and apply for admission at Step in Faith. To support Franciscan University’s student financial aid fund, visit Step in Faith Fund.

OC REGISTER: Cal State-Fullerton plans fall start online

According to the Orange County Register,

“We are assuming in the fall we will be virtual,” Provost Pamella Oliver said. “And of course, that can change depending on the situation, depending on what happens with COVID-19. But at this point that is what we are thinking.”

Oliver said the decision came amid a number of concerns, including the state’s ability to do sufficient testing and case tracking for the coronavirus to make sure it is safe to lift the shelter-in-place order for faculty, staff and students.